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Apple and Google won't say if foreign governments are keeping tabs on you through your push alerts, senator says

A stock photo shows a woman using a smartphone.
A stock photo shows a woman using a smartphone.Getty Images
  • US Sen. Ron Wyden wants to know if foreign governments are compelling Apple and Google to let them monitor users' activity.

  • Wyden said his office got a tip last year that foreign officials were demanding data.

  • Apple said the US government barred it from revealing this practice.

Apple and Google won't reveal if foreign government officials have compelled them to share some users' push notification data to aid in investigations into people of interest, a US lawmaker said.

"I write to urge the Department of Justice (DOJ) to permit Apple and Google to inform their customers and the general public about demands for smartphone app notification records," Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden said in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland this week.

Wyden said his office got a tip last year that foreign government agencies were demanding push notification data from the two tech giants.

But when Wyden's office contacted the companies, they said the US government had "restricted" them from revealing "information about this practice" to the public, the letter said.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But the company told Reuters in a statement that Wyden's letter allowed it to publicly comment on the practice.

"In this case, the federal government prohibited us from sharing any information," the company told Reuters. "Now that this method has become public we are updating our transparency reporting to detail these kinds of requests."

After Apple put out the statement, it also updated its Law Enforcement Guidelines to say that a user's Apple ID can be "obtained with a subpoena or greater legal process," The Washington Post reported.

A Google spokesperson told Insider that it was "the first major company to publish a public transparency report sharing the number and types of government requests for user data we receive, including the requests referred to by Senator Wyden."

"We share the Senator's commitment to keeping users informed about these requests," the statement said.

Apps don't deliver push notifications directly to smartphone users; instead, Wyden's letter said, they go through a "digital post office run by the phone's operating system provider."

When users enable push notifications, Google and Apple create tokens that tie their devices to identifying information they've provided to the companies.

"These services ensure timely and efficient delivery of notifications, but this also means that Apple and Google serve as intermediaries in the transmission process," Wyden's letter said.

His letter said that the DOJ should permit the two companies to share information about legal demands they receive, especially from foreign governments, and to inform specific users about demands for their data, unless prohibited by a court.

Read the original article on Business Insider